Convicted serial killer Randy Steven Kraft was sentenced to death Wednesday by a judge who said the mutilations carried out by the 44-year-old computer consultant were “hard for me to comprehend.”
“I can’t imagine doing these things in scientific experiments on a dead person, much less (to) someone alive,” Superior Court Judge Donald A. McCartin said.
The judge’s decision to uphold the jury’s Aug. 11 death verdict against Kraft in the murders of 16 young men brought a mix of tears and grim smiles of satisfaction from many family members whose loved ones were listed among the victims.
One father, Darwin Hall of Pocatello, Ida., shouted out as the defendant was led from the courtroom: “Burn in hell, Kraft.”
Prosecutors have accused Kraft of killing 45 young men in Southern California, Oregon and Michigan, two of the states where he traveled on business. But they believe, based on a handwritten, coded, so-called “death list” found in his car, that his victims may number more than 65, which would make him the nation’s worst serial killer.
The victims--most of whom were between 18 and 25--usually were dumped along freeway ramps or in remote areas, and many were sexually mutilated. Prosecutors believe that most victims were hitchhikers--many of them Marines--who were drugged by Kraft, then strangled after he was able to overpower them.
From the bench, McCartin said the carnage was so great that he would mention only one of the 16 victims included in the Orange County charges against Kraft: Cigarette lighter burns to the victim’s eyes and to his body, his mouth packed solid with dirt, his genitals removed, and the body punctured by a swizzle stick and left wrapped around a tree.
As the judge continued, Darwin Hall wrapped an arm around his wife, Lois, who began to cry. McCartin was talking about their son, 22-year-old Mark Howard Hall, who was found in a wooded area in Silverado Canyon in January, 1976.
“I don’t know of any type of person who could do that to another human being,” McCartin said.
Kraft listened with his chin resting in his left hand. When given a chance to speak, he was brief: “I have not murdered anyone, and any reasonable review of the record will show that.”
Ten of the 12 jurors who set Kraft’s punishment at death and one of the alternates were among the spectators in the crowded courtroom. Most indicated that they attended the sentencing because they had invested more than a year of their lives in the trial.
In the first months of the trial, jurors were subjected daily to blown-up color photographs of nude, mutilated bodies, taken within minutes after the victims were found.
“I can still shut my eyes and see the evidence,” juror Carol Neal said Wednesday. “There won’t be an end for me until he’s gone.”
With automatic appeals in death penalty cases, experts said it could take at least 10 years before Kraft could be executed.
One victim’s sister in the courtroom had a special reason for wanting to see the Kraft case come to an end. The skeletal remains of Sharon Crotwell’s brother, Keith Crotwell, have been kept by prosecutors as evidence.
Crotwell, 19, the only victim ever seen to leave with Kraft in his car, disappeared from a Long Beach parking lot in March, 1975. His head was found in the waters near the Long Beach Marina two months later. His skeletal remains were found in Orange County five months after that but were not identified as Crotwell’s until after Kraft’s 1983 arrest.
“We’re hoping to get Keith’s remains back as soon as we can, so we can have some kind of memorial service,” she said. “It’s the only way my family can put this behind us.”
Kraft’s relatives, who have been highly supportive of him, chose not to attend the sentencing hearing. Besides his parents, Kraft has three sisters and several nieces, nephews and in-laws who testified on his behalf during the penalty phase of his trial.
Kraft’s sister, Doris Lane of Midway City, speaking for the family, told The Times: “Randy comes from a very strong family. We believe he is innocent; we don’t believe he received a fair trial. I will never believe that Randy ever killed anyone.”
But the judge said during one hearing outside the jury’s presence that the evidence against Kraft was the most overwhelming he had ever seen.
Kraft, who was living a quiet life with a roommate in Long Beach’s gay community, was arrested at 1:10 a.m. on May 14, 1983, on the northbound Interstate 5 in Mission Viejo, half a mile north of the Oso Parkway exit. Two California Highway Patrol officers who had stopped him for weaving across the lanes discovered a dead Marine--25-year-old Terry Lee Gambrel--in the front passenger seat of Kraft’s car.
A search of the car turned up numerous pill vials for prescriptions to drugs found in the body of several other young men whose murders had been unsolved up to then. The so-called “death list” was found in the trunk. Under the floor mat were pictures of several other victims, many of them nude and apparently dead.
In three searches at Kraft’s home near Recreation Park, law enforcement authorities found clothing and personal items belonging to several other victims. By the end of the first week of investigation, Kraft was a suspect in two dozen murders, including six along Interstate 5 south of Portland, Ore., and the murders of two cousins whose nude bodies had been found near Grand Rapids, Mich.
Deputy Dist. Atty. Bryan F. Brown, who took over the Kraft case within a few hours of Kraft’s arrest, accused Kraft of 22 Orange County murders but decided to limit the charges for the guilt phase of the trial to 16. Before the end of 1983, however, Brown filed court papers accusing Kraft of 36 murders in all for purposes of a penalty phase. A 37th murder was added to the case two years later, and eight more were included in prosecution papers shortly before Kraft’s trial began in July, 1988.
Many legal experts believe that the Kraft case, which resulted in a 13-month trial, could be the most expensive in the state. Some other trials have been longer--the McMartin Pre-School molestation case in Los Angeles, for example, has run more than two years. But the Kraft case, because 37 victims were listed for possible use in the penalty phase, required a small army of lawyers, investigators and expert witnesses for the defense. Because many of the witnesses were in the Marine Corps, both prosecutors and the defense had to send representatives all over the country to track them down when they were sent to other posts.
Superior Court Judge Luis A. Cardenas has ordered all defense costs in the Kraft case sealed until his appeals are exhausted. But some court observers have estimated the overall cost of the trial at more than $10 million.
The defense argued that prosecutors could have saved a lot of time and money on the Kraft case if they had whittled down the number of murders in the charges. But prosecutors countered that it was Kraft himself who determined how many people would be killed.
Judge McCartin noted in court Wednesday that the numbers of victims and what happened to them were so horrendous that all the previous men he has sentenced to death--there were six before Kraft--put together “could not match Mr. Kraft’s record. . . . If anyone ever deserved the death penalty, he’s got it coming.”
The judge also berated Kraft for giving no sign of remorse during the trial. Though Kraft did not testify, he was permitted to question many of the witnesses himself as his own co-counsel.
“He (Kraft) treated this trial like a breach-of-contract case,” the judge said. “It was like he was in another world.”
After Kraft’s statement proclaiming his innocence, the judge chided him about the “death list.” McCartin said he had received letters from parents in Corona del Mar and from Iowa seeking information about whether their sons may have been on Kraft’s list.
“You might give some thought in your waning moments to helping those people out,” the judge advised Kraft.
Kraft had told the judge that he wanted to say more but that his lawyers had advised him not to.
Kraft lawyer William J. Kopeny argued at length Wednesday on a motion for a new trial. But defense lawyers took the unusual position of not making any oral arguments seeking a reduction of sentence from death to life without parole, a motion that is automatic whether they argue it or not.
Judges have the authority to set aside a jury’s death verdict, but in the 12 years since capital punishment was re-enacted in California, no Orange County judge has done so.
While Kraft was scheduled to remain at the Orange County Jail Wednesday night--his home for the past 6 1/2 years--Lt. Richard J. Olson, a Sheriff’s Department spokesman, said that Kraft is expected to be transported to San Quentin State Prison no later than Friday.
Kraft has filed numerous lawsuits in federal court--none successful--claiming that his civil rights have been violated because Orange County Jail is not designed to house an inmate on such a long-term basis.
Many believe that Kraft’s appeals will take at least 10 years altogether, in both state and federal courts. His lawyers say two primary issues undoubtedly will be discussed at length by whoever is appointed to represent him on appeal:
Judge McCartin’s refusal to break up the 16 murders into multiple trials. The defense argued that the jurors would be so overwhelmed by the sheer number of murders at a single trial that it would bias them against Kraft.
McCartin’s decision to allow prosecutors to put part of the “death list” in front of the jury. The jurors saw 13 items that prosecutors said represented 14 victims in the guilt phase. The judge let the jurors see seven more items, representing the eight out-of-state murders, in the penalty phase.
Prosecutor Brown argued Wednesday that Judge McCartin had bent over backwards so much to be fair to the defense that he was a “pussycat for the defense.”
Brown later took a back exit from the courtroom to avoid television cameras out in the hallway. Another Kraft attorney, C. Thomas McDonald, said after the sentencing that Kraft “would have liked to speak to every single count. I encouraged him to make a generalized statement.”
Times staff writer Mary Lou Fulton contributed to this story.
RANDY STEVEN KRAFT BIOGRAPHY
Born: March 19, 1945 in California
Average-size man; 5 feet, 10 inches; 160 pounds
Family from Orange County
Raised in Westminster
Lived in Long Beach since 1970
Graduated from Westminster High School, 1963 honor graduate; active in debating team and one of the top varsity tennis players.
Attended Claremont Men’s College; majored in economics and graduated in 1968.
After graduation served one year in the U.S. Air Force as airman basic; no explanation by Air Force as to why a four-year stint was cut short
44 years of age now
38 years of age at time of arrest
Self-employed computer consultant
Previous arrest record: two arrests for lewd conduct (1966 in Huntington Beach and 1975 in Long Beach); spent five days in jail and was fined $125 for the Long Beach incident.
Compiled by Susan Davis Greene